Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Blast From The Past - A Tribute To Ron Toomer

Arrow Development was formed in 1947 to tackle difficult mechanical engineering tasks. When a nearby community asked the company to build a carousel for a city park, Arrow officially became an amusement park supplier. Arrow was there at the birth of the steel coaster industry, developing and fabricating the tubular steel track for Disneyland's Matterhorn Bobsleds.

Ron Toomer joined Arrow Dynamics in 1965, his first job was working on the water flow for Pirates of the Caribbean. Next up Toomer began his long history of working on roller coasters with the very first mine train, Run-A-Way Mine Train at Six Flags Over Texas.

In the next decade Arrow built nearly a dozen mine trains throughout the US and one in Canada. In 1974, Toomer and a colleague discovered a practical way to turn coaster riders up-side down. Circular loops on coasters had been done before,but Toomer's idea was to build a series of close to the ground corkscrew spirals made with tubular steel track. They built a full-scale prototype to use for testing, but both were a bit worried about putting people on it due to the extreme G forces.

After a bit of research, using an accelerometer to compare the G forces of an old wooden roller coaster to the prototype, the first rider, a company employee took a spin on the prototype and the rest is history. The first corkscrew , the Chicago Loop opened at the now defunct Old Chicago Amusement Park in Bolingbrook, Illinois. The park may only be a fond memory for many, but the coaster is still operating at Canobie Lake Amusement Park in Salem New Hampshire as the Canobie Corkscrew. A number of Corkscrews have been built over the years, including Knott's Berry Farm, Opryland, Worlds of Fun & Geauga Lake.

The success of the corkscrew was followed in 1977 by the giant clothoid loop, which was independently developed by several designers. After that Arrow looping roller coasters popped up all over the place, with each getting loopier than the last. In 1978, Busch Gardens Williamsburg's Loch Ness Monster opened, featuring the world's first interlocking loops. On the non-looping side of the industry, Ron Toomer designed Gemini a twin-tracked racing coaster, Cedar Point's third Arrow ride, which opened in 1978. This coaster originally ran six trains giving it a higher capacity than any other coaster in history.

The suspended coaster was the major innovation of the 1980s. The prototype, the Bat operated at the press conference in 1980 and opened in 1981. Unfortunately, it was short lived, operating sporadically until 1983 and being removed from the park in 1984. After some major re-engineering, nine more suspended coasters opened between 1984and 1993, five of which are still operating today.

After slightly over twenty years of service, Ron Toomer became President of Arrow in 1986 and multi-loopers again became "The Thing" with Arrow leading the charge. In 1987, Vortex at Kings Island opened as the world's 1st coaster with six inversions. And in 1989, Shockwave, the world's first seven inversion coaster, opened at Six Flags Great America.

At the pinnacle of his career, Ron Toomer designed the first roller coaster over 200 feet tall. Dubbed Magnum XL-200, this steel monster opened at Cedar Point on May 6th 1989. Still a crowd favorite today Magnum helped prove the sky's the limit!

Ron Toomer retired from Arrow in 2000, after 35 years of innovative designs that continue to thrill season after season. We first met Mr Toomer in 1999 and had the opportunity to chat with him at Cedar Point's Coastermania, when he was the keynote speaker in 2009. Our conversation was about the state of the industry today and how much technology has impacted the designing of rides. He mentioned how he used to design coasters using #2 wire (not coat hangers as the popular urban legend goes,) He also debunked the fact that he had never ridden a roller coaster. He said even though he suffered from motion sickness, that he had ridden enough to know how the rides should feel. We will miss Mr Toomer's wit and wisdom, he was one of the true pioneers in the roller coaster industry.


Anonymous said...

Based on the sources I've seen, the Chicago Loop/Canobie Corkscrew wasn't the first Arrow corkscrew to start operation, it was the second.

The first was the one at Knott's Berry Farm, now operating at Silverwood. It and the Canobie Corkscrew have identical layouts (basically just a lift, a drop and a double corkscrew, folded into a compact footprint with 180-degree turns). Some of the later ones have additional loops.

At Canobie, the Corkscrew always played second fiddle to the park's classic woodie, the Yankee Cannonball, and now it's even more overshadowed by Untamed. People are usually surprised when I tell them it was only the second modern coaster to go upside down.